If you were a teacher, would you seriously think about taking pupils on a school trip? With all the 'elf & safety' provisions that now exist you'd have to be either brave or stupid to take kids on the kind of foreign trips and geography field trips I went on in the 1970s. Take this story from the front page of the Daily Telegraph today...
Pupils are ordered not to wade into ankle-deep water unless teachers first carry out a full risk assessment and put “proper measures in place”. Staff are expected to check rivers, ponds and the sea for currents and rocks before allowing children to dip their feet.
Guidance issued to schools warns that any “impromptu water-based activities” could pose dangers to children – including hypothermia. The rules were branded “ridiculous” by parents’ groups. It prompted fresh concerns that children’s development risked being undermined by over-zealous health and safety regulations.
The recommendations were outlined in a document – available to all 21,000 schools in England – to help teachers organise more school trips. Advice from the Department for Children, Schools and Families is intended to cut red tape, debunk health and safety “myths” and give staff practical tips.
But the guidance prompted controversy after teachers were presented with a series of edicts surrounding swimming and the use of minibuses. It said: “Swimming and paddling or otherwise entering the waters of river, canal, sea or lake should never be allowed as an impromptu activity. The pleas of young people to bathe – because it is hot weather, for example, or after a kayaking exercise – should be resisted where bathing has not been prepared for.
“In-water activities should take place only when a proper risk assessment has been completed and proper measures put in place to control the risks”...Margaret Morrissey, from campaign group Parents Outloud, said: “Wading out into the ocean is one thing but there’s nothing wrong with paddling where the waves break. “Part of children’s learning is to walk along the water’s edge and get your feet wet. There are dangerous currents further out and you stay at the edge.” She added: “I want to see schools and youth groups taking advantage of opportunities that learning outside the classroom can provide.”
But the Department for Children, Schools and Families said teachers had to plan activities carefully. “We are not banning paddling,” said a spokeswoman. “We have seen cases in the past where things have not been planned and assessed for the risk. Unplanned activities around water can be dangerous.”
Surely part of growing up is forming the ability to make your own risk assessment. I know I did that most weeks of my childhood, growing up on a farm. You can never protect children from all danger. The trouble is that whenever there is an isolated incident of a child being hurt, or even killed, the papers go mad and demand immediate action from lawmakers in order to ensure that "it can't happen again". The politicians have to be seen to be doing something and acting quickly. They invariably overreact and go too far in creating new laws, which are then goldplated by overzealous civil servants. That's the ridiculous system we have collectively created and now tolerate.
I feel really strongly about this for this reason. School trips are a fantastic thing. They allow children to broaden their horizons, experience new things and to lear things they could never hope to learn in a classroom.
Allow me to personalise it. In the late 1970s I went on two school exchange trips to Germany. I was crap at German before this, but due to the two trips I came to excell in the subject and went on to do a degree in it. I went to UEA in Norwich to do my degree, where I became involved in active politics. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without having gone on those two school trips. So thank you David Lewis. Thank you for having the courage to take 60 unruly kids on a ferry to the Hook of Holland, then on a train to Cologne, and then on another train to Bad Wildungen.
I know many school exchanges still take place. But I am damn sure there are many that don't. After all, what if the foreign partner parents are paedophiles? No CRB checks in Germany, you know.
I wonder whether Mr Lewis would have taken us to Germany under the current system. Knowing him, he probably would. But I know there are many others who would think the risk of being sued was just not worth the candle.
If I were ever to become an MP I would make it my business to try to start dismantling this system of regulation which has led to us becoming a totally risk averse society. And then maybe thousands of kids can enjoy the same kind of opportunities I had.